Remembering Mel Rosenthal

Photographer, educator, activist, and friend of the Museum

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 by Sean Corcoran

I’m not an artist; I’m a messenger. I go to a place to see what’s going on, bring it back for people to see, then I go to the next place.

Mel Rosenthal

Mel Rosenthal. Mel Rosenthal in his old bedroom in the South Bronx, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.23

Mel Rosenthal (1940 – 2017) 

Mel Rosenthalphotographer, educator, activist, and friend of the Museum of the City of New Yorkrecently passed away. We thought it important to remember the life of a New Yorker who worked tirelessly with both images and words to raise awareness of social issues surrounding poverty, housing, healthcare, and equality.

Rosenthal’s first extended project chronicled the changing conditions of his childhood neighborhood in the South Bronx in the 1970s and ’80s. The photographs were published as In the South Bronx of American (2000) and exhibited under the same name in a solo exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York (2016). He was a founder of Triage Project, a collective of photographers, doctors, and writers who document homelessness and the health care crisis in New York City. For two decades he documented the lives of recently settled refugees as they began their new lives in America. In 1992 Rosenthal began photographing the Arab-American communities in New York—a community he believed was “often misunderstood and misrepresented in American popular culture today.” Images from this series were included in our 2002 exhibition, A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York City and a selection were used in our recent exhibition Muslim in New York (currently on view through December 10 at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery at the Manhattan JCC).

Mel Rosenthal. Girls in hijabs at Al Noor School, ca. 2001. Museum of the City of New York. 2006.37.13

Finally, he was an educator, teaching at Empire State College/SUNY for nearly four decades. In those years he mentored countless photographers – many who have gone on to work and thrive as professional photographers.

Rosenthal was a gregarious man, one whose memory will live on not just with his close friends and family, but also through lives of his students and photographs, which will continue to have an impact for many years to come.

Learn more about the life and career of Mel Rosenthal on MCNY Blog.

By Sean Corcoran, Curator of Prints and Photographs

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